A clean sweep

With new materials and new designs, windshield wipers are providing better visibility in rain and snow.

Most owner-operators pick up a new set of wiper blades with little thought to anything but whether the set fits the truck and how cheap it is. That’s easy to understand. On the surface, wipers have changed little sincethey were introduced in 1916. And the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations, which cover factory-installed windshield wipers, dictate only that every Class 8 vehicle must have two working blades.

But when it comes to replacements, new developments in blade form and function mean that picking the best blade for your operation requires more than a snap decision at the counter. Different blades do different things, and buying the cheapest, most generic brand is not always the way to go. Putting a little thought and a few extra pennies into a wiper blade purchase can save you hassle and money in the long run.

Most blades now are made with a rubber squeegee that wears down as it is used. It’s difficult to remember to check your blades to see whether they need replacing, which is why drivers commonly find themselves hauling through rain with restricted vision. A blade still in use after it needs replacing may begin to chatter across the windshield.

Valeo’s SmartBlade has a wear indicator that changes from black to yellow as the blades deteriorate. “Drivers are reminded to purchase and install a new set of blades at their first opportunity, instead of when they’re caught in a storm,” says Greg Palese of Valeo.

Rubber blades tend to wear through eventually, thanks to ozone, temperature extremes, ultraviolet light and sunlight, says Jeff Jasuta, a sales manager at Jamak Fabrication. Any of these factors can cause a rubber blade to take a permanent set, or bend. The wipe quality decreases because the squeegee doesn’t connect uniformly across the windshield as it moves.

The wiper industry therefore has begun to build blades out of untraditional materials, such as silicon. “Silicon is not affected by ozone or sunlight or climatic condition,” Jasuta says. “It has an operating temperature range of minus 100 degrees to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and will not take a permanent set.”

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Jasuta says that as the silicon blade wipes the windshield it leaves behind a layer of silicon residue. The residue increases the ability of moisture to bead up. This increases the blade’s overall wiping power and allows clearer vision.

On average, silicon blades cost 25 percent more than traditional ones, Jasuta says. The silicon Jamak Tripledge, for example, costs $6.88. But money is saved in the long run, Jasuta says, because a silicon blade lasts two to three times longer than the nine-month lifespan of an organic rubber blade.

“Silicon rubber is basically silicon that has been formulated in a rubberlike material,” so that the blade can glide more easily, says Randy Putnam, president of Specialty Silicone Products. “Silicon rubber withstands the degrading effects of sunlight that basically kill the rubber.”

However, because windshield glass is made of silicon, this can cause problems with silicon blades, Putnam says. “The glass and the silicon want to stick together. It can chatter and scrape. It creates friction and burns out the wiper motor.”

One solution, Putnam says, is his company’s SilBlade, a silicon rubber blade coated with Teflon. SilBlade wipers cost $25 for the entire unit, which might be triple the price of a more pedestrian blade, but they come with a five-year warranty, so owners won’t have to buy new sets of blades every few months.

No matter the make or material of the wiper mechanism, the squeegee connects to the frame arm in one of three ways: a pin arm, which goes through the side of the frame; a bayonet, which clicks into the rear of the frame; or a hook, which goes around the frame. Customers once had to be mindful of what type of connection to buy, but because of universal adaptors, almost any blade can connect to any arm.

Wiper frames themselves are metal or plastic. Metal frames are less prone to weather damage. On metal frames, only the squeegee and the adaptor are not metal.

Though the frame-blade wiper is used almost universally in the United States, single-beam blades are gaining popularity in Europe. They are designed to deal with the occasional problem of wind lift: Rushing air lifts the wiper off the glass enough to lessen its ability to scrape away precipitation. This can be particularly troublesome on aerodynamic trucks because of their steeply sloped windshields.

A single-beam blade is a one-piece frame and squeegee unit that gives a uniform pressure across the length of the blade while lowering the wiper’s profile, which lessens the chance of wind lift. Since there is no complicated frame to hold the squeegee, the wiper is less likely to get clogged by freezing rain or snow.

U.S. manufacturers are beginning to produce single-beam blades. The Innovision Beam Blade by Trico Products, a Texas company, won a 2005 design award from the Precision Metalforming Association, which cited its style, simplicity, all-weather performance and durability.